“Above and Beyond” – Music for Wind Band – CRESTON, SCHWARZ, GRAINGER, COPLAND, RANDS & BARBER  [TrackList follows] – ‘The President’s Own’ U.S. Marine Band/ Gerard Schwarz – Naxos Wind Band Classics 8.573121, 71:53 (4/25/14) ****:

Somewhere band took a completely different path than orchestra. While bands and orchestras are around the same age, the string instruments were developed faster than woodwind and brass. Technology therefore changed the timeline of the two groups. This contributed to one of the differences in that the bulk of the wind ensemble and band music has emerged in the late 20th Century.

The bulk of bands existed via the military, which is the case with the featured band on this CD. The United States Marine Band has a storied history, having its founding in 1798, making it one of the oldest ensembles in U.S. history. The band is tasked with performing numerous state functions as well as playing in every single presidential inauguration since Thomas Jefferson.

The CD opens aptly with an overture. With repeated eight note figures passing around the group with a lyrical melody over a number of occurrences the work subsides into a light woodwind-led B section. Then there is a building back up to the opening statement’s intensity. A nice opening to the CD, tastefully hinting at dissonance while keeping with its overall bright tonality.

One of the greats of the American musical scene, Arron Copland, is represented with his composition Emblems which is also the only work he specifically wrote for band. This work is denser and its tonality much more fluid as also heard in Copland’s orchestral music. The treat of this piece is the weaving of the folk tune “Amazing Grace” into the work as well as little hints of jazz peeking in and out. While this work sounds thoroughly Copland it is more of his earlier style, more aggressive than, say, Appalachian Spring.

Gerald Schwarz the conductor displays his composition skills in the CD’s title track.  After a subtly and delicate beginning the woodwinds the brass and percussion arrive with a chaotic interlude evolving to a nice power chord. It is very representative of the modern trend in wind ensemble writing.

Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy, his bunch of “musical wildflowers,” is one of the cornerstone works of modern wind ensemble. While during the First World War, Grainger enlisted in the U.S. military and served with the Coast Artillery Band. This work is based on rural songs and the singers who performed them for Grainger. Grainger intended this work not only to present the song but to also capture the style in which it was sung. It is a masterpiece of color and texture, which demonstrate Grainger’s complete grasp of writing for the wind ensemble. It is presented here in all of its nuanced possibility from intense to playful, from gossamer light to big and heavy.

Rands’ Ceremonial begins with a very dark and mysterious opening. This is the most dissonant and somewhat wondering work which ebbs in intensity until the climatic end. One interesting characteristic of this work is that it is monothematic, it only uses one theme through the work. In this case the extended melody had ten repetitions.

Two works from Samuel Barber, one of America’s preeminent late composers, are featured on this disk. Medea’s Dance of Vengeance and the Commando March. These also happen to be my two favorite tracks on the CD along with the Grainger. Two very contrasting works; one frenetic and intense, the other brilliant and upbeat.  The Dance of Vengeance is a driving, energetic work with dissonance galore. The Commando March is a modern take on the style most associated with the American musical scene (sans jazz). Yet while a march, it would not be mistaken for a Sousa march, nor would it be an easy work to actually march to, being a symphonic or indoor work.

Closing the disk is the Marine’s Hymn, based on Offenbach’s “Gendarmes’ Duet” from the opera Genevieve. The actual tune however does predate that work and it is generally accepted that it was written by another composer who is not known. One interesting fact about the verses is that while it officially has three verses, one verse per conflict has been created to create something of an oral/aural history for the Corps.

The treat is to hear the Marine band in a live setting were all groups should be, but especially bands. The playing is topnotch. While I did not find every track equally engrossing there are some gems; I was so enjoying the suave de vie of the Marine’s Hymn I was disappointed that it seemed to end so soon.

TrackList:

PAUL CRESTON (1906-1985)
1   Celebration Overture (1955) (7:54)
AARON COPLAND (1900-1990)
2   Emblems (1965) (10:33)
GERARD SCHWARZ (b. 1947)
3   Above and Beyond (2012) (8:54)
PERCY GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Lincolnshire Posy (ed. Fennell) (1937/87) (14:52)
4 “Lisbon” (1:24)
5 “Horkstow Grange”(2:36)
6 “Rufford Park Poachers” (3:34)
7 “The Brisk Young Sailor” (1:37)
8 “Lord Melbourne” (2:51)
9 “The Lost Lady Found” (2:45)
BERNARD RANDS (b. 1934)
10   Ceremonial (2011) (12:54)
SAMUEL BARBER (1910-1981)
11   Medea’s Dance of Vengeance, Op.23a (trans Hudson) (1956/98) (11:54)
12   Commando March (1943) (3:39)
JACQUES OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
14 Marines’ Hymn (arr. Hunsberger) (1859/1955) (1:11)

—Darren Robinson